Gamecocks seeking shot at redemption

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COLUMBIA --- South Carolina lost the first two games of a three-game series at home against Florida and watched its hopes for a Southeastern Conference regular-season championship disappear.

But a victory in the finale against the Gators has given the Gamecocks reason to hope for redemption in the SEC Tournament.

"Last weekend was tough," outfielder and leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield said. "At the same time, we finished a game back of the SEC champions, so it hasn't been quite a down year. We're looking forward to the tournament and looking forward to proving we are one of the best teams in the country."

The 11-6 victory over the Gators helped South Carolina maintain its spot as second-best in the conference and third seed heading into today's opener against Ole Miss in Hoover, Ala.

South Carolina reached its perch because of starting pitching, coach Ray Tanner's skill in using his bullpen and the knack for getting runs in the clutch. Those traits failed in the first two games of the decisive series with Florida.

The Gamecocks scored just four runs and stranded 18 runners in the two losses. In the first game, two of South Carolina's top three hitters, Merrifield and Jackie Bradley Jr., struck out with the bases loaded and the team trailing 3-1.

South Carolina aces Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson pitched well but were each tagged with losses, the first time all year they had lost in the same series.

Tanner liked how his team didn't give up, beating Florida in a game that could influence its chances for the NCAA Tournament and one of the top eight national seeds who would host a best-of-three super regional series if they advanced that far.

South Carolina is seeking its first SEC Tournament title since 2004.


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